Can we demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity from the Old Testament?

Derek Thomas & 2 others
2 Min Read

THOMAS: When you open the first chapter of Genesis, you’re confronted with Elohim, which is a plural. You’re confronted with the idea of an act that is thought out and put into action, and you have references in Genesis 1 to the hovering of the Spirit. However, there is not a single Jew in the Old Testament—not even Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, or David—who effectively expounded the doctrine that God is three persons and one nature.

So, whilst the evidence was conducive to Trinitarianism (of course, God, who essentially exists as triune would reveal Himself in ways that are conducive to Trinitarianism), none of them expounded a doctrine of the Trinity until the New Testament. What was latent in the Old, as Augustine said, is patent in the New. So, there are adumbrations of Trinitarianism in the Old Testament. There is no self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament that would be contrary to Trinitarianism, but the fact remains that Trinitarianism is something revealed in the New Testament.

What is absolutely astonishing to me—and one of the reasons I came to believe in the deity of Jesus, that He was more than just a man—is that the Christian Jews you meet in the New Testament, like John, Matthew, Luke, Paul, and Peter, are exclusively monotheistic but have no trouble accepting the divine nature of Jesus. There is no debate in the New Testament against Trinitarianism. There is no debate in the New Testament against the deity of Christ. There is massive debate against justification by faith, but there was an immediate acceptance of Trinitiarianism by first-generation Christian Jews. That says to me that they immediately could see and identify that the Jesus with whom the disciples had spent three years was none other than the Son of God.

GODFREY: Some people have said Trinitarianism might be a parallel issue to the teaching on eternal life in the Old Testament because there is not a lot of teaching on eternal life in the Old Testament. In the historical context of the Old Testament, in which almost everyone was polytheistic, there was a great need to establish monotheism amongst the Jews. In a similar way, because the Egyptians lived only for the eternal life they would have in their tombs, there was a desire to stress the importance of this life lived before God. So, historical context may have had something to do with God’s timing in revealing these truths.

PARSONS: I think Derek’s answer is so helpful because we often try to squeeze our theology and what we understand from the whole of Scripture into a particular verse or passage in the Old Testament, such that we try to make it say something it doesn’t say. We need to allow the Bible, the whole of Scripture, to speak for itself. It also emphasizes the need for the new covenant, the need for the New Testament.

The Old Testament gives us all the ingredients, all the paradigms—they’re all there. All the foundations are there. There is nothing contrary to Trinitirianism in it whatsoever, but we don’t want to make the error that we often find among pastors and commentators in which they try to fit the Trinity into a particular verse or passage. We don’t need to do that. We need to better exegetes and better in our hermeneutics.

This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’, W. Robert Godfrey’s, and Burk Parsons’ answers given during our If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Escondido 2022 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.